Peter M. Connell, longtime proprietor of his family’s Huntington Station funeral home, for nearly 60 years ushered clients through some of their toughest days with a steady kindness, attention to detail and eye toward helping the downtrodden, his relatives said.
Connell, a resident of the Carillon Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Huntington, died April 20 of natural causes there, said his wife, Frances Connell. He was 83.
Peter Connell was born April 19, 1934, in Huntington to Florence, a registered nurse, and Michael, a funeral director. He attended St. Hugh of Lincoln in Huntington Station and St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay.
He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. John University.Peter Connell’s father, Michael A. Connell, opened M.A. Connell Funeral Home in 1923 and Peter lived in an apartment above the business with his family until he wed.
Connell and his younger brother inherited the business, in 1955, when their father died, leading Connell to briefly drop out of St. John’s to enroll in mortician school. He married Frances Miller, a nurse who grew up blocks from him, in 1977 in Huntington. They had one son, Charles F. Connell of Huntington.
Father and son bonded over their love of classic cars, the son said. His father once traveled to Lansing, Michigan, to buy a green and white 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88.
Peter Connell had a meticulous approach to his job, family members recalled. He carefully directed family members through services, for example, showing them in which pews to sit and when to stand.
“This was really his whole life,” said his wife, of Huntington. “He loved the business. He loved serving the families, the community.”
And he had a sharp memory, his family said. After meeting someone and hearing their name, he would remember rendering services to their family member years earlier. When those with meager means or no family members died, Connell was known to recycle still-alive flowers from earlier ceremonies and reach out to priests, getting them to deliver remarks. And sometimes, it was just him, seemingly alone in marking the passage of a life.
“On a funeral sometimes, I’m the only one that cares,” Connell told Newsday in 1984. “Some people will say, ‘Who cares?’ I care.” Connell was also a 20-year volunteer with the Huntington Manor Fire Department, and was made a life member of the department.
He also belonged to the Huntington Elks Club, the Knights of Columbus and St. Patrick’s Church in Huntington, where he was a parishioner for 39 years.
Despite his long career in the funeral business, from which he retired in 2014 when he could no longer drive, Connell left few directions on how his family should proceed after he died.
“You would think he would have pre-planned everything,” his wife said. “But he really didn’t.”Some of his requests that his family did follow: printing the Irish prayer on his prayer card and using his beloved Oldsmobile in the funeral procession, which included a fire department honor guard and ladder truck.
He is also survived by a brother, John J. Connell of Huntington. Burial was at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Huntington.